LEONIE MARINOVICH's series of portraits are the catalyst for a discussion in which urban African women speak frankly about the nuances and strategies of living with their HIV status, and of dealing with male violence in their societies.
Marinovich has long been photographing people in rural communities who are living with HIV, and this collaboration with UNAIDS was an opportunity to chat about the things people usually don’t discuss about the virus, and for women of all ages to speak about their life experiences.
One of the most emphasised themes to emerge was that of image, self-image and how women wish to present themselves to the world. The interplay between these intimate confidences and the confident, comfortable manner that these women offer themselves to the photographer’s camera interact in a remarkable way with the stories of their lives and emotions that they present verbally.
Born ’70, September 9
In 1993, I was an ordinary young black woman from the township – we all wanted to be teachers, nurses, social workers.
There was nothing that I couldn’t dream.
Post 1994, I’m now HIV-positive, so what’s the point?
I’ve got to deal with this – my child is going to die, my husband will die.
Twenty years ago, a mother could dream of her child’s life before they were born. That gift is gone. Now that is like a sword in my heart. Because there is nothing worse than thinking that your child died from a sexual act. That you could have prevented this.
Ninety per cent of people living with HIV contracted it because they say to somebody, I love you.
When I disclosed to my husband, he beat me up; I was almost killed. I was blamed for bringing the disease. The next morning I went to work and he came to work to insist that I must pack my stuff; he’s not going to live with a person with AIDS. My co-workers heard this story and immediately after that I was dismissed from work.
When my daughter was two-and-a-half years old, she died. Every year on the 5th of May, the entire May, whether I like it or not, I become an empty box. I can’t stop mourning. I cannot not sometime wish she was alive.
She’s not here. But it doesn’t kill me. We women need to be able to heal ourselves, so that we can live with the pain. Because I know my daughter would want me to live and be happy.
Life is not lost, because every little step that we take, it’s because somebody has walked before us, somebody’s footprints are still within us.
My mother says there are people who will build, and they will never have homes.
The reality of AIDS is that you change. Quite a lot. Now those changes may be very difficult to deal with if you don’t understand. If you have not found ways of dealing with those changes, you may not survive for long.
You are a mother, you have a family, you’ve got to be responsible. You can’t sell your treatment; you can’t smoke it. You can’t do these things, because you’re going to die.
I chose to live because I wanted to raise my son. Every year [of] my life I have one year added. I want more to be with my son. I thought when he’s 23, I would say, God, I am ready anytime; I’m prepared. But I have this thing that I still want to see more of my son. DM
All tortoises are actually turtles. Some turtles however are not tortoises.